Months of enquiry and millions of pounds culminated a month ago in the release of the Leveson report; the debate over the government’s response continues today. Public outrage over press conduct suggests there is strong support for some regulation of the press, yet the government, (at least the part with the power) don’t seem to want to pass any law to regulate it. The team who has spent months investigating and researching the issue suggests a statute should be put in place which enshrines an independent regulatory body into law, but Cameron’s Conservatives disagree.
“if it’s not bonkers I’ll do it”David Cameron
It is not so bonkers to suggest that to the law should act to stop this scandal from repeating itself. While the government directly overseeing the media is a concern, having a law in place to say the regulatory body should be independent completely nullifies this fear. The word independent specifically denotes that the government does not have any influence. While the Tories are averse to Leveson’s suggestion that Ofcom be a backup regulator, it need not be the case if subscription to the independent body be made mandatory. The law would, amongst other things, simply deter Murdoch and his merry men from taking the members of this body out for dinner – a scenario which one can only assume, one way or another, is inevitable without a law prohibiting it.
It has been argued that Britain’s freedom of the press is a model to the rest of the democratic world, but I wonder if anyone has taken into consideration the fact that the model is fundamentally flawed. Was that not why the Leveson enquiry was established in the first place? Because our media was corrupt. It was corrupting our police force and our politicians. It was established to find a way to enjoy the benefits of a free press, whilst making sure they are not free to employ any far-from-moral means to do so. The problem seems to be that, without the law, there are no penalties to deter the behaviour that highlighted the problem in the first place.
Yet, the media is unsurprisingly putting up firm resistance to any parliamentary action. Any act of parliament relating to the press is being caste as an outrage: an undemocratic, un-British response to a problem which the press can easily solve without the interference of government. I, along with many others have very little faith in the fact that Fleet Street has any substantial drive to do so.
So why is this tiny Tory clique so assured that Leveson’s suggestions are wrong? Would it be so cynical to assume that it is a cheap trick to win the support of every freedom fighting newspaper? It would after all ease the pressure on a government struggling to find support in the polls if the newspapers would give a little to get a little. And come the general election, it is clear that this issue will tower above any other on an Editor’s agenda, so I imagine in that respect being on the Tory side of the fence looks quite appealing to a politician. An under-reported mutual interest seems to have developed between David Cameron and Fleet Street, and I can describe how the meeting to discuss this went:
Rupert Murdoch strutted through the back door of number 10; Cameron and the Aussie were caught up in a moment of mutual self interest. They tore off their tops to reveal tattoos of each other on their chests (Murdoch kept it quiet that his was only temporary), and walking towards each other they were overcome by an instinctive urge, their fingernails drawn to the others back, where they started scratching as though both their power depended on it.
OK I concede; that is just a guess, but as a metaphor, I don’t think it’s far off.
If put to any hardline right-winger, what I am saying will undoubtedly be viewed as a contentious point, but this decision does seem to make an aweful lot of political sense. Even if the fear of regulation does strike so deeply in the Tories hearts, that they see Leveson’s rational and justified, not to mention expensive advice as ‘bonkers’, it is hard to believe that any politician would not have considered the positive impact this will have on their polling figures. When the power of Fleet Street is taken into account, and it is considered that no party has won a general election without the support of Rupert Murdoch since before Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, it is safe to assume this would have been a very serious consideration.